Driver #1: Trending Mushroom Functions: Energy, Cognition, Immune Health, and Sexual Performance
Industry experts say that there are several major wellness concerns driving interest in mushrooms, chief among them being immune-system regulation.
“Immune health has always been the anchor, the foundation of mushrooms,” says Brien Quirk, director of research and development for Draco Natural Products (San Jose, CA). “Years ago, maitake (Grifola frondosa) was one of the first mushrooms to become popular. It was being studied for its anti-cancer properties, but researchers found that maitake mushrooms had a powerful effect on immune health.”
One 2014 literature review found that certain kinds of mushrooms, including maitake and Cordyceps, increase Th1 cytokine production both in vitro and in vivo; however, the review also notes that these findings have yet to be confirmed in randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials.(2)
Quirk says that other varieties of mushroom like reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and shiitake (Lentinula edodes) are also popular immune-health supplements, and that Chinese herbalists have long touted reishi as a folk remedy for bronchitis and other lung conditions.
While consumer interest in mushrooms started with immune health, the scope of applications quickly expanded, experts say. Camozzi notes that Cordyceps militaris mushrooms, for instance, are popular as energy-boosting supplements, but they also have properties that improve sexual performance and stamina. One 2008 animal study found that Cordyceps militaris supplementation increased sperm count, serum testosterone, and serum estradiol in male rats.(3)
Another area of significant interest is the effect of mushrooms—particularly lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus)—on cognition. Camozzi says that lion’s mane is popular among seniors for its cognitive-enhancement properties, but studies have demonstrated that it can have wider applications.
A 2009 double-blind, placebo-controlled human trial found that a 3-g dose of lion’s mane taken daily for 16 weeks was associated with a significant increase in scores of cognitive function in participants who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. The authors theorize that this effect may be the result of an increase in nerve growth factor synthesis, but state that further research is required in order to verify the mechanism of action.(4)
Later studies confirm that lion’s mane may have beneficial effects on the brain. A 2011 animal study examining the effects of lion’s mane on peptide-induced learning and memory deficits in mice also concluded that lion’s mane may be an effective means of reversing cognitive decline through promotion of nerve growth factor activity.(5)
These studies indicate that lion’s mane may have neuroprotective and neuroregenerative properties, though further research is necessary to determine the exact biological and neurological processes involved.
2. Guggenheim et al., “Immune modulation from five major mushrooms: application to integrative oncology,” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, vol. 13, no. 1 (February 2014): 32-44
3. Ying Chang et al., “Effects of Cordyceps militaris supplementation on sperm production, sperm motility and hormones in Sprague-Dawley rats,” The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, vol. 36, no. 5 (2008): 849-859
4. Mori K et al., “Improving effects of the mushroom yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial,” Phytotherapy Research, vol. 23, no. 3 (March 2009): 367-372
5. Mori K et al. “Effects of Hericium erinaceus on amyloid β(25-35) peptide-induced learning and memory deficits in mice,” Biomedical Research, vol. 32, no. 1 (February 2011): 67-72
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